Waiting for the Barbarians The Canon
Print
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
 
            The barbarians are due here today.
 
 
Why isnt anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
 
            Because the barbarians are coming today.
            What laws can the senators make now?
            Once the barbarians are here, theyll do the legislating.
 
 
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the citys main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?
 
            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
            He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
            replete with titles, with imposing names.
 
 
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
 
            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
 
 
Why dont our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
 
            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and theyre bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
 
 
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious peoples faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
 
            Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
            And some who have just returned from the border say
            there are no barbarians any longer.
 
 
And now, whats going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

- Original Greek Poem

- Translation by John Cavafy

- Translation by Stratis Haviaras